Tiny House Design & Engineering

Excerpt From Our Digital Tiny House Workshop

A happy tiny house life truly begins with a well-thought-out and safe design; get this right and you'll be basking in the glow of your beautiful home for years to come. Get it wrong though, and you'll be planning your future remodels before you've even moved in!

So, what makes a tiny house design great? In the following free video from our Digital Workshop, Episode 2: Tiny House Design and Engineering, we cover the key consideration points while designing your dream tiny house, whether on wheels or on a fixed foundation. We also begin talking about some code and zoning aspects that you'll want to understand before you begin your design process.

How should you go about the design process?

When considering a tiny house design, you can either start with a blank slate or use an existing set of plans. They both have their advantages and challenges so let's summarize them here (much more detail is provided in the video which you can access at the bottom of this article.)


Designing a tiny house is well within the grasp of someone without construction experience. There are numerous DIY-friendly and free design programs out there of which we prefer SketchUp. SketchUp's free version has enough basic functionality to create a tiny house design. Neither of us had experience drawing in 3D so this took some time to master, but after a couple of days of tutorials, we had enough of a grasp to get busy designing hOMe.

Some oft-missed design details which are crucial to consider during the design process are: 

  • Utility closet space: where will your hot water heater, electrical panel, etc go?
  • Water filtration: our neighborhood has arsenic in the water supply so we had to find space for a reverse osmosis system, no small thing!
  • Plumbing and electrical lines: if you're going to have exposed loft floor joists, you won't have a way to conceal any electrical/water lines which you may not have wanted to run all the way up through your ceiling rafters.
  • Structural elements: if you have any large windows spanning long sections, you'll need to calculate for the extra framing to hold that span safely.
  • Heating and cooling appliances: if you plan on installing a fireplace (wood or gas) you'll need to know ahead of time what the clearance requirements are. If you plan on using a unit such as a mini-split, you'll need to dedicate a wall section as well as a spot on the exterior for the compressor.
  • General appliances: during the hOMe design process, Andrew excitedly shared his 12th rendition, stating that it was 'done' and 'perfect'. It was right back to square one though when I noticed that this version had no refrigerator lol! Make a list ahead of time of all your appliances and utility needs and avoid a lot of headaches.

While in motion, movable tiny houses are subjected to hurricane strength winds, motion equivalent to an earthquake, and significant shear forces during a sudden deceleration event (such as slamming on the brakes). Keeping a tiny house from rattling apart is no easy feat and this is why we always recommend one hire an engineer if it's going to be a DIY design.

Buying Existing Plans

When Andrew and I first set about designing hOMe, we did so because we didn't find anything that matched our needs & wants. Mind you, this was in 2013, essentially a lifetime ago. Today there are tiny houses to match nearly everyone's wishes. If you're reluctant to design your own tiny house, consider buying an existing set.

Our sister site, www.TinyHousePlans.com is the largest resource for tiny house plans out there and chances are high that there is something in there to match your dreams. We've curated the best and have only selected those that have proved themselves to be tried & true. We're always adding to our offerings as well so if you have a tiny house you'd love the plans for, let us know and we'll research them.

Learn What You Need to Know

In this free 33 minute episode of Tiny House Design and Engineering, we'll go into detail about design and engineering for a tiny house design. We'll also start to dip our toes into the topics of codes and zoning, which you'll want to understand before you even begin your design process.

We sure wish we had known these things before we started: it would have saved us literally weeks of our time. We're happy to share them with you now so we can hopefully spare you from making the same mistakes we did! We hope you enjoy it!

Stay tuned for more from the TinyHouseBuild.com Digital Workshop Series, or click HERE to purchase the entire, online tiny house workshop; covering everything from tools to codes to construction details, to creating a tiny house lifestyle and everything (truly!) in between. Each purchase comes with over $300 in FREE bonuses (including our hOMe Digital Total Plans Package).